There are many arguments and debates that transit on the very periphery of timeless and pointless discussions, that in time the subject itself loses its sanctity. Every think tank and intelligent scholar, both civil and military ends up with an analysis which is perceptual, in the realms of borrowed thinking and or adapting a model that already exists. The finished product of all analogy is that there is a need, but we don’t have either the resources, the financial capability or the military might to fight collusively with ensured victory.
Let us lay all our biases aside and take it right from the grass root levels, keeping the reasoning for the necessity simple. Let us afresh establish the need. I profess to do it under the following heads:-
- The Geo strategic and Geopolitical landscape. Establishing the integrated theatre concept.
- The Way the enemy is likely to prosecute operations against India. (The concept). What is his likely desired end state?
- Why theatre commands? What do we have presently to fight the war in our terms? How do we dissuade/ deter/ fight? Therefore, the justification.
Geopolitical and Geostrategic Realities
India has to exist with two inimical neighbours. That’s the indisputable reality. How these neighbours tend to dominate the proxies and the neighbourhood is known to the larger audience and enough is there to read in the open media. What is concerning is not the addendums but the collusively. The collusive nature is not only restricted to arms production, sharing of niche technologies and capabilities or a bartering system for Geo strategic needs. It is collaborative in the matrices of the grey zone and the hybrid form of warfare.
It is systematic and non-attributable keeping the dimensions below the threshold of both military and political reactions. The spectrum of info dominance, cyber-attacks, sabotage of grids is all part of the package. Even the aggression is felt in trade, or in Afghanistan or the central Asian republic nations, the Gulf of Oman, naval presence in the Indian Ocean region, the growing vulnerability of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which is the likely part of a larger plan.
We share our land borders with our two main adversaries. With Pakistan it is continuous but clearly demarcated and defined by river corridors and the type of development and growth in the recent years. We have even gone to the extent of segregating it as per their terrain and development profile (high altitude, mountains, hill regions, developed terrain and obstacle ridden terrain, semi desert, desert, and the Kutch (salty marshes). We surprisingly haven’t got over this legacy.
While we should have considered, the fault lines, and regional profiles of provinces for operational studies and not geographical demarcations, owing to the lack of territorial depth and the capability for both axial and lateral movement of man and material in shorter time frames. For example, we should have demarcated the northern areas as one area for study of enemy likely operational concepts and developed expertise therein.
The same goes for Punjab (south of the Chenab) and for the semi deserts and deserts, south of the river Ravi. We need to study Sindh and Balochistan separately as areas that are prone to internal strife. Khyber pakhtunkhwa, Giligit-Baltistan, NWFP, for its Talibanisation and reliance on terrorism, where every family owns a weapon and is ready to forget differences and fight for Islam first and nation next. The Pakistani coastal areas have major ports, Pasni, Karachi and Gwadar. These are all biased and singularly vulnerable to the Indian naval forces, from the south. Chinese interests in Pakistan are mainly to derive maximum benefits from the ports and the CPEC.
Experts need to be generated, with adequate continuity who have the ways and the means of constant information and intelligence gathering of their provinces. Remember a country doesn’t go to war only at its borders. It’s the nation that goes to war. Identification of regional capabilities in assisting war fighting and then mitigating it by psychological and physical paralysis is what we should be looking at. For a weaker nation, it is always all or nothing. Therefore, we need to cater for the worst-case scenarios of force and human application.
Every man wielding a weapon can be a warrior, every tractor can carry troops and material to battle, every resource can be adapted to meet the requirement of a nations will. There has to be a system in place to address threats in dimensions that are beyond immediate soldiering. Pakistan has a well-established framework of recruiting in times of need, men and material towards a desired function. They might be lesser trained, but they are motivated and blinded by fanaticism and religious fervour.
Pakistan through the Taliban have constantly threatened governance in Afghanistan. They are slowly and steadily diminishing the Indian influence with the help of China. The voids left by the withdrawal of US forces, has to be filled.
With the Chinese it’s a border of perception and demarcations, both change constantly on whims and fancies of Chinese leadership. But within the borders we have other nations of political and strategic interests that play a vital role as buffer states/ zones. Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Srilanka. In war their credibility and relative authenticity to either stay neutral or allow usage of their land and air space will matter critically.
These nations therefore divide the application of Chinese military capability. The Tibetan autonomous region is prone to strife, this can be accessed through the Tibetan leadership in exile. The problem of the Chinese is multifold. Inclement weather conditions. Vast boundaries without local support and development.
Vulnerability of the northern trade route. Height differential that imposes penalties of aircraft payload carrying capacities. All major build up south of the Tsangpo river easily detected by spy satellites working in consonance with international intelligence agencies. Volatile borders all around, Xin-Jiang province and Islamic influxes by the Uyghurs, the Taiwan independence issue, Hong Kong playing truant, the insecure northern borders with Russia, the fracas in the South China Seas, US presence and dominance in the region and most of all the young Chinese population under western influences seeking and favouring a democratic system of governance with more freedom of speech, transparency, and equality. Therefore, threatening the present dispensation.
But the Chinese have distributed themselves clearly into land-based theatres of application. Their India centric Western theatre command, exercises, is equipped and trains for an Indian contingency. Of course, it’s basic logic that other theatre forces will be applied as and when required. The pressures exerted from time to time by the Chinese in Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal are just to keep the India forces occupied. Justify its military spending and provide military training to its troops.
This helps them in showcasing strength, keeping the leadership of Xi Jinping relevant, also a large Indian military presence taxes the economy. More the deployment of the military, more will be the technological development, this has a cascading effect. India buys, China increases production, sells to neighbouring nations at minimised prices, financing, facilitating, and building its military research and production facilities. Pakistan has fallen for this trap completely. Their entire weapon systems today are Chinese.
The debt increasing by the day. About 15% of the external debt which is estimated around US$17.1 billion (6.15% of GDP) is owed to China by Pakistan only due to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. As of December 2020, Total Public Debt and Liabilities of Pakistan is estimated to be about ₨44.978 trillion/US$283 billion which is 98.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) of Pakistan.
Therefore, the Indian military needs to get down to the business of understanding the geo strategic criticality developing around it, the reach increasing with technology and the forms of war changing into domains of non-attributable application of means. We need to integrate our intelligence systems, coordinate resource deployment, work towards timely collation of information and intelligence.
We also need to institutionally generate experts, solely aimed at studying the clearly tasked and demarcated regional landscape under an overall strategic umbrella. The enemy can’t be tamed by hitting it at its strengths, therefore the identification of fault lines and its exploitation towards a desired military end state will pay greater dividends. In this the primacy of Information warfare takes over contact application.
Pakistan’s likely way of fighting India
We are already at war. To Pakistan, peace is a relative by product of finding time and resources to build up the next strategy. Bleeding India with a thousand cuts has been the way until now. Acts of terrorism, subjugation of population in Jammu and Kashmir. Collusive threat with China. War in the grey zone and application of hybrid forms along the LOC, has found itself a cheaper alternative and methodology to keep the Indian military occupied. Most of the skirmishes are along the LC. In the IB sector there is a relative calm. Because here lies the strength of India’s conventional might.
Pakistan has lately developed its concept to cater for the existential threat of India’s strike corps. They have also realised that once applied, these strike corps would be hard to stop and evict. They lacked the offensive capability and sustainability even if they had to preempt. Therefore, they reorganised, rearticulated, and relocated their defensive and offensive formations.
They moved their offensive enablers forward (forward posturing). Also created static defensive formations into heavily armed mobile elements. They today are in the process of modernising vintage equipment in these formations. Making them versatile, flexible, and lethal. Through their latest concept of RRR, they have generated an offensive capability that can both preempt, defend, launch counter offensives, and maintain force symmetry.
But their deployment is completely based along river corridors, on likely vulnerabilities of their own and also of India. They in their design of battle have advocated and adapted the principle of application of forces, that are readily available immediately in that space and time both in defence and offensive options. Aim being to constantly generate criticalities by addressing Indian sensitivities, denying the consolidated application of Indian strike capability. Pakistan is likely to preempt the destruction of India’s air capability and naval might by conventional and sub conventional actions.
Pakistan has also realised that it can only sustain a short war. While Pakistani military is likely to go on offensive, the Pakistani polity is likely to cry foul and draw world attention to an unjustified war, seeking all the international help for early closure. Therefore, the analogy it has derived and constantly convinced itself with is that an offensive action preempting India is the best option. Any gains made would give them leverage to profess victory. Having lost all wars so far, it would give credibility to their military and most of all, deny India the victory it desires, embarrassing India internationally. Early termination would also relatively decrease the cost of war, by denying India the option of escalation.
Chinese war fighting
The Chinese reasons to go to war with India can be debated as, will they? or why would they? What do they have to gain? Is it to showcase its military might to the Asian countries, therefore waging a war against India as it is the competing economical giant? To give credibility to its military dominance and a message to the US of its military capability. To bring Chinese military into the world stage of modern military technology and means. Other than these all-other reasons seem perfunctory. The only border disputes that remain unsettled for China are along the Indo- China border. This too can be solved amicably, if desired.
The insinuation that the Indians are causing trouble by giving refuge to Tibetans is also not tangible. But then why would the Chinese raise the tempo in Ladakh? Why have they amassed troops of their Western Theatre Command? Is the Chinese president using India as a stooge, to take away the attention from all the domestic problems he is being faced with? The answers are vague, but the stance of the Chinese very vivid. Development of infrastructure to include military stations and airfields. Forward logistic dumps. Deployment of mobile quick reacting forces. Redeployment of the rocket artillery. Presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean region.
The Chinese strongly believe in the art of winning without fighting, which they advocate through their articulation of military strategy in the open domain. Non-contact warfare takes precedence over contact operations. They strongly believe that their capability to wage war in the information, cyber and space domains is credible enough to make India crumble economically. They aim at raising the cost of war. War in the sub conventional domain actually suits them. Where they can subdue Indian adventurism through non-contact application of state craft without being attributable.
But if there is a physical application of troops. The Chinese would wage war fully prepared, with a preponderance of fire power, seamlessly applied along the entire northern borders. They would heavily rely on the second arty to provide them with the destruction potential, ensuring that the Indian will is broken. Aimed at air strips, logistics dumps, routes of reinforcement. They would when satisfied of diminished Indian defensive capabilities, launch heavily armed and integrated mobile divisional size forces, simultaneity being achieved by infiltrations, air borne and heliborne operations, operations at sea and psychological warfare.
The Chinese believe in using superimposing strength with higher ratios nearly 12:1. Their integrated commands are adequately equipped with the right mix, for the right terrain. Self-sufficient in added capabilities of air, engineers, reserves, and logistics. The Chinese will never be in a hurry. They have the economics and the military endurance capability to sustain war for longer durations.
The requirement of theatre commands
With two aggressive neighbours that constantly undermine India as a nation. We need to prepare for the worst-case scenarios. The need is to dissuade any misadventure by the adversary. For that we need the capacities of deterrence. Let’s first clearly define the present likely environment for application of the military. Limited war after testing of thresholds in the sub conventional domain.
Short notice, intense, preemptive, and proactive escalation towards defined end states. Definite wars. The main concept being, of taking the war to the enemy, hitting his centre of gravity with speed, threatening value objectives and his military credibility. Forcing him to react and fight the battle on our terms. Increasing the cost of war and at the same time ensuring protection of own sensitivities and vulnerabilities. If this be the environment, what is therefore the military need
Integrated force structures to be applied instantly, aggressively, and authoritatively. Quick mobilisation and application with adequate sustainability, capability to independently fight and also exploit emerging possibilities. If this be so, the permutations and combinations towards a desired end state needs to be worked out, practiced, trained, and validated. Integrated holistic application is a critical necessity towards exploitation of defensive voids, harnessing the tempo of operations and maintaining surprise.
Every element participating has to be predesignated with specific tasking and requirements. The Air Force to enable operations by interdiction and air support. The navy by being a threat in being and controlling the SLOCs. The army by a definite, synchronised simultaneous, asymmetric application breaking the enemies OODA loop. We need to prepare for short wars. Yet be ready for longer possibilities. But a bird in hand is better than two in a bush. It’s but logical that in our strategy of offensive defence, we take the war to the enemy. Create multiple critical points. Force premature application of enemy reserves in areas of own choosing. Destroy critical strategic and operational assets. Deny him Operational spaces and above all, have the capability to launch simultaneously, or incrementally, launch deep, or launch shallow, always controlling the escalatory continuum.
This cannot be achieved if the three services operate in silos. Without Information and intelligence sharing, application of integrated ISR, regional and terrain adaptability of training and equipment, visuals of enemy deployment, knowledge of estimated responses and concentrated application of own strengths, post-strike damage assessment, the next war cannot be won. We need to integrate, the reasoning that we have limited assets by one service is a faulty analogy.
Yes, you have limited resources, but please use those resources timely, aggressively, and adequately, lest they be left out of battle. Resources can always be reorganised once the immediate winning strategy has been employed. After all we in the military have learnt to cater for contingencies that might occur. But to cater primarily for contingencies and relegate the immediate battle (the absolute need) to an afterthought, is a recipe for a sure catastrophe.
While I have built in very simplistically the necessity of having integrated theatre commands, we need to have an Indian model in place. I would recommend:
- The Northern Theatre Command - primarily looking after the Northern front, the Ladakh region and the sugar sector, China centric.
- The Western Theatre Command - looking after the complete Western front, Pakistan centric.
- The Eastern Command - looking after the Northeast, to include primarily China and secondarily Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
- The Maritime Command - looking after the peninsular security, with the coast guard and state police forces. The islands of Andaman and Nicobar. Prepared also for out of area contingencies and disaster management.
- The Sabre Command - predominantly a strike command. The winning combination with latest equipment and military wherewithal. Responsible and catering for all emerging contingencies in all regions. An offensive component of national will. The cyber, space and strategic forces command can be part of the Sabre command.
- Internal security being handed over completely to the home ministry. With the army only being the final responders.
What needs to be their configuration and organisation can be worked out adequately by analysing the requirement of what we see as the desired end state in that theatre. That’s a matter of semantics. Turf warfare needs to be stopped. Distribution of manpower and leadership planning should be done by a team of integrated officers, who have a clear understanding of the requirement and justification of integrated theatre commands.
Integrated theatre commands are a necessity, to harness the potential of a military and ensure aggressive dominance. In the bargain accrue protection of sensitivities. In the age of modern technology, war cannot be cast into a singular dimension of application. We need to combine, refine, integrate, operationalise to harmonise best capacities. There is a requirement to get the machine moving, after the initial hiccups, I am positive all the elements of national power will fall in line. This move forward is a positive step to make India’s military versatile and more lethal.
About the Author
The author is a military analyst and commentator on national security issues. Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India